One of the cleverest things about the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Always a Bridesmaid is its title, and the way it fits its group of women who, because of a promise made at their senior prom, continue to be bridesmaids in each other's weddings well into their 50s. That, however, is as clever as playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten get, as their show's humor is amusing, at best, but never hilarious. The plot and comedy play out more like that of a television sitcom than a theatrical comedy - which might be expected given Wooten's work as a writer and producer on The Golden Girls.
In truth, this piece seems a bit of a play on The Golden Girls, at least character-wise. Among Always a Bridesmaid's four friends, there's a sexpot-y, self-absorbed Blanche type in Monette Gentry (Miranda Jane). The ever-friendly, somewhat daft nature of Rose is present in Libby Ruth Ames (Rachelle Walljasper). And Deedra Wingate (Lora Adams) possesses Dorothy's dry, condescending wit. Only Charlie Collins (Tamarin K. Lawler) seems original, with her hippie, anti-feminine attitude and attire.
While I did find Friday's performance entertaining, my greatest delight stemmed from its wardrobe. Costume designer Gregory Hiatt came up with some ridiculously funny bridesmaid dresses, playfully creating unwearable-anywhere-else garments like those oftentimes forced upon the best friends of brides at many a wedding. I especially liked a holiday-themed outfit that Deedra dons during Charlie's wedding - the new bride having forced her bridesmaids to wear the same dresses they once mandated she wear in their weddings. Deedra's ensemble is a light-green gown with red opera gloves and a white-fur-trimmed, red capelet, and while well-crafted, the combination also had the audience in stitches when Adams first appeared in it. Costume comedy also came from a misunderstanding among the ladies regarding Deedra's own wedding; she requested festive dresses of a French fashion, which her friends interpreted as French costumes, arriving in get-ups more suitable for can-can dancers and French maids.
Director Warner Crocker also came up with an enjoyable way to execute scene changes. Instead of tasking a crew of stagehands with swapping out floral arrangements and pillows in the sitting room of the women's Laurelton Oaks venue, Crocker has the venue's hostess, Sedelia Ellicott (Janet Ellen Brucken), take care of it with the help of Always a Bridesmaid assistant stage manager Nicholas Munson, who is dressed as a member of her staff. Brucken, without a word, makes clear that she's the boss, pointing with authority at tasks Munson still needs to complete, and impatiently waving him out of the room when they're done. As for the space itself, scenic designer Christopher Gadomski's sitting room is beautifully dated and grand, with an especially impressive treatment on the yellow walls: a pattern of stenciled diamonds and dots that looks like a wallpaper design.
I just wish the script were as fine as these elements of Crocker's production. Though the cast members' efforts at delivering their comedic lines are commendably adroit, the material itself is merely okay. The playwrights also make what seems clunky use of Libby's daughter Kari (Cara Chumbley) as the play's narrator, having Kari deliver her lines as though recounting the story of her mother's friends' weddings at her own reception. It feels unnecessary and, while Chumbley's characterization seems pitch perfect, Kari's monologues aren't nearly as funny as they're apparently meant to be, nor is the running gag involving her yelling at (unseen) relatives when they get too wild.
While adequately pleasing, I had higher hopes for Circa '21's Always a Bridesmaid, given how much I enjoyed the theatre's 2012 production of The Dixie Swim Club by the same playwrights. Unfortunately, the main strength of that play - the sincere sisterhood between its characters - isn't as present in this one, with the authors' efforts (and they remain efforts) to be funny outweighing their attempts to be touching.
Always a Bridesmaid runs at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island) through May 17, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 or visiting Circa21.com.